By Nick Petersen ● BocaJump | August 9, 2012
An impending 70 percent cut in state grants that Elgin police used to pay to conduct roadside safety checks and enforce drunk driving laws around holidays has Elgin City Council members trying to decide if those programs should continue, and if so, how to pay for them.
During the city’s Liquor Commission meeting Wednesday, Mayor Dave Kaptain asked council members whether the safety check program should be considered a “core service” paid with city funds in next year’s budget. State grants last year provided $260,000 for roadside and DUI checks, but only $82,000 will be made available next year, Police Chief Jeff Swoboda told council members. The grant money pays for police officers’ overtime that result from arrests and court appearances associated with the programs, he said.
Kaptain suggested the city use a portion of the money raised by the new 3 percent liquor tax to fill the funding gap for the program, and to support the police department’s drug and alcohol abuse prevention program.
But he didn’t get much support for that Wednesday. Council members John Steffen, Rich Dunne, Anna Moeller and John Prigge expressed varying degrees of reluctance about tapping into the city’s operating funds to pay for the programs.
Steffen asked Swoboda to investigate other funding alternatives; Dunne suggested using the department’s drug forfeiture fund. Moeller suggested looking for other grant opportunities and said the city should partner with School District U46 on the drug and alcohol abuse prevention education program. “Perhaps U46 has resources available to them” that the city doesn’t, she said.
Prigge expressed misgivings about city funding for either program. “I don’t know if we should be in this kind of education business. If it progresses to a point where we’re going to take a vote on it, everyone should talk to their constituents” first, he said.
Noting that the city council created new taxes this year – including the liquor tax -- to fill an expected large gap in city revenue, Prigge said council members should consider how taxpayers would react to using some of the new tax money to create or expand a city service. “Remember, the other shoe’s gonna drop this fall when seniors don’t get their $200 check,” referring to the senior citizen property tax rebate program the council ended this year. “They might say we took their money” to pay for drug education and safety checks instead, Prigge said.
“I’m not coming here with any specific program right now,” Swoboda told council members. “I’m just providing a general landscape” about the problem.
The police chief said the most popular drugs in the community are cocaine, marijuana and heroin. Police confiscated 1 gram of heroin in 2008; 31 grams in 2009; 76.7 grams in 2010; 230 grams (a little more than half a pound) in 2011; and 91.4 grams so far this year. “We had 14 drug overdoses in 2011, and six to date this year,” he said.
Swoboda said he would provide council members with more data about the costs associated with the programs and what resources could be available – or manpower reassigned -- for continuing them.